The UK’s Department of Health (DoH) has recently given the green light to the idea of all hospitals – NHS and independent sector – advertising their wares

In the US, hospital advertising slogans such as ‘Tomorrow’s medicine today’ and ‘Every life deserves world-class care’ abound. As a result people are more informed about what is available and healthy competition helps to drive up standards.

Back in the UK, it is not yet clear what the DoH’s code in this area will contain – as it is still out for consultation. But NFR believes that advertising is a basic human right. Commercial free speech is as important to the maintenance of a civilised society as property rights, the rule of law and free speech for individuals.

The problem with this issue therefore is not that the DoH are moving in a more liberal direction but that they are not going as far and as quickly as they should.

To empower consumers and galvanise patient choice three reforms should be allowed:

  1. Enable all health professionals – including doctors, nurses and others – to freely advertise their wares;
  2. Enable all health and care institutions – including hospitals – to openly advertise in the manner of their choice;
  3. Enable prescription medicines to be similarly advertised.

Today, in the world of real time global communications and the internet, it is ludicrous that nurses have not yet championed these vital and necessary reforms. Reforms that would do so much to empower consumers and genuinely drive better outcomes for all involved.

For doctors and other health professionals to hide behind the antiquated argument that you cannot give people information because they could not be trusted with it was always a non-starter. I have no idea how my television or car works but that is why in a free society brands are allowed to emerge. Competing brands are the means by which we don’t have to be experts in a subject but through which we can obtain reputable outcomes.

Today, by not pushing the three reforms mentioned above nurses have ended up with their worst nightmares. By criminalising the reputable advertising of prescription medicines, society is now awash with a highly dangerous black market in health information. While reputable pharmaceutical companies are not allowed to advertise their wares – every charlatan and criminal known to man is doing just that on the internet. State regulation is not the answer – liberal freedom and reputation building is.

Similarly, by not allowing doctors, health professionals and hospitals to openly advertise and compete for custom we have ended up as nurses being locked into a governmentally driven bureaucratic paper trail that tries to find out, top down, what health professionals and their institutions are doing and ‘how they are performing’. You know the kind of thing – are we meeting our ‘targets’ and all that involves!

NFR says, end this crazy and counterproductive healthcare censorship now. It is time for nurses to get real about openness and through the empowerment of consumers establish better healthcare brands so that we can work in a better marketplace.

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